Listen or read the interview by JLS Gangwisch featuring artist Ruby Thelot
JLS Gangwisch:I’m here today with Ruby Thelot. Thank you so much for being here, Ruby. Would you tell us a bit about yourself?
Ruby Thelot: I live in New York City. I’m a designer, product manager, and cyber ethnographer. I’ve a few occupations. I am a product manager at a tech company. I run a design and research studio called 131 and I’m an adjunct professor of Design and Media Studies at New York University, NYU.
JLS Gangwisch: What path brought you to NYU, to Studio 131, to all the work you’re doing now?
Ruby Thelot: That’s a great question. I’ve been involved with the field of new media for about a decade now. I just got a Facebook reminder of a gallery show I did seven years ago where I sold memes on the USB at Eastern Bloc gallery in Montreal, Canada, where I’m originally from. Essentially, I think, some of that some of that practice as a person online making visual art is what led me to where I am now and led me to new media art.
My first introduction to it really was the world of memes. I had this collective with my friend Ellie, which was called finding your exotic partner on chat roulette, and yeah, we had our first gallery show seven years ago selling memes on USB stick, after which had my own meme page which was locally successful, a francophone meme page. I started essentially doing more research on this practice that I had engaged in because I wanted to understand how come it had become so successful so rapidly, and wanted to understand essentially, post factum, the sort of dynamics history of the thing that I was engaging in.
That led me to a very interesting field of research. I ended up traveling the world from Talun, to Abuja to New York to Toronto, to the Hague, to Berlin to speak about new media art, about digital communities, and develop my practice as a cyber ethnographer.
Between that I started my own gallery called Sometimes Gallery which is a digital art gallery, browser based where I showed the works of people like Karinne Smith, Nikki Schafer, amongst others.
So I’ve been doing this for in what my little life feels like a long time. Not, of course, in the scope of the history of new media art. All these paths have led me to, you know, the building of my practice, my research, and now sharing that as an educator and as a designer with clients and students.
JLS Gangwisch: Thank you very much for that. What does new media art mean to you? Would you unpack the term cyber-ethnographer for us?
Ruby Thelot: I don’t want to pretend like I can present a better definition than Lev Manovich has, so I’ll leave that to the pro, but generally speaking, you know per Lev, my understanding of new media art is that it is the companion of artistic practices that utilize technologies above what we would call the classical arts in order to, you know, either create images, experiences, stories, narratives. The interesting thing about that definition is that the notion of new technology, of course, as a very fluid one.
That is to me where a lot of the interesting circumscription or world building in new media art can, when you’re able to extend the definition of what new technology means. And of course, older technologies can still be considered new. I considered the work of, say, William Dickey, who made works with hyper cards to be a great example of early new media art.
I go back to the work of Joan Schroeden, whose brother I interviewed as well, whose work in California at the University of San Diego with early computers is an example of new media art.
That is an extremely long answer to say I don’t want to be prescriptive about what my definition is.
JLS Gangwisch: Are there any current projects you’d like to tell us about?
Ruby Thelot: Yes, there’s a few cool projects happening. I’ll be doing a performance on September 23rd, 2023 at Pageant, which is an artist run space in Brooklyn. I’ll be doing an automatic translation of on the André Breton’s The Magnetic Fields, which of course was written with the discipline of automatic writing. This performance will take the practice of automatic writing applied to translation and be brought sort of as this live gallery performance and recorded performance. This is very much in line with my own artistic practice as a performance artist usually doing things in the digital, so I’m very excited about that.
I have a few texts and books coming out that I’m excited about.
JLS Gangwisch: Where do you share your work online?